By Ken Haar (Westfield State), PHENOM Legislative Director
The fiscal 2015 budget process is over, and while there were many successes for public higher education, there was a good deal of disappointment as well. Following the grand success of the fiscal 2014 budget, with progress made toward splitting the cost of public higher education 50/50 between the state and students, there was hope that the bargain would hold. All segments of the system and our legislative and administrative allies seemed prepared to honor the system-wide fee freezes and provide agreed-upon funding for 2015.
The deal struck last year to increase funding for the State Universities by $15 million and to fund the Community Colleges with an increase of $20 million, fell short in the fiscal 2015 budget process. The State Universities received $8 million in new revenue and the Community Colleges received $13 million. Both numbers fell short of the amount necessary to secure a fee freeze at these campuses, and while a few schools will be able to freeze their fees in fiscal 2015, most students will return to school in September with a larger bill than this past year. The UMass funding level was sufficient to again secure a fee freeze for UMass students for the 2014-15 school year.
So while the budget marks a second year of significantly increased funding for the public higher education system, nearly three-fourths of the students in that system will see their access to public higher education eroded by higher fees as the affordability of the system continues to decline.
Mitigating some of the pain is a $3 million funding increase in the Mass Grant program, and a continuation of the matching grant for the paid internship program ($1 million) at the State Universities.
All in all, PHENOM activists can be proud of the gains we’ve made in securing increased funding for the public higher education system, but our fight is far from over. Too many of our schools rely too heavily on contingent faculty, too many of our students are driven into increasing levels of debt, and too many of our potential students forsake even trying to go to college because of the increasing costs.